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Effort launched to dredge Greenport’s Sterling Harbor

The mouth of Greenport’s Sterling Harbor is filling up with sand, and local officials say it needs to be dredged, something that hasn’t been done for a long time. 

“My understanding in talking to a fair amount of boaters coming out of the creek is that they’re starting to run aground,” Trustee Mary Bess Phillips said at last Thursday’s Village Board work session. “It’s getting shallower and shallower as storms keep coming through.”

The shoaling is occurring in the section of the harbor nearest Sandy Beach Point, she said, adding that she’s also spoken to residents in that area who seem to favor the dredging. 

It’s been many years since the harbor was dredged. Ms. Phillips found a number of news accounts and documents dating from 2011, when the village tried to get the harbor dredged but was unsuccessful. 

Mayor George Hubbard Jr. said Suffolk County, which often does dredging projects on the East End, wouldn’t do this one at the time since it’s federal jurisdiction. 

Village administrator Paul Pallas said the state Department of Environmental Conservation also wanted a significant amount of soil testing done before agreeing to allow the dredge spoil to be placed at Sandy Beach Point.

“The thought at the time was that it was rather expensive,” Mr. Pallas said. “And that’s were we left off. It never moved forward from that point.”

Ms. Phillips, whose husband is a commercial fisherman, said she’s hoping to establish a dialogue involving the village, Suffolk County, New York State, the federal Army Corps of Engineers and other officials to work toward getting the dredging started. She also said grant money may be available for the work. 

Stirling Harbor Marina, Greenport Yacht Yard (formerly Brewer’s) and other private and commercial businesses account for more than 350 boats that regularly use Stirling Harbor, she said. 

“We have a community advisory group here made up of slip rental customers and storage customers and one of the concerns that they have expressed is that the channel is getting narrow and it’s also getting shallow for some of the boats that come in,” said Mike Acebo, the general manager at both Greenport Yacht Yard and Stirling Harbor Marina. “My customers have asked me to try and get active in trying to take care of that somehow.”

Neither he nor Ms. Phillips could recall the last time the harbor was dredged, but Mr. Acebo said he thinks it’s been 15 to 20 years.

Greenport’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, which was last updated in 2014, lists 1976 as the last time Stirling Harbor was dredged.

Dave Bergen, a former Southold Town Trustee who was involved in trying to get the harbor dredged in the past, said his research indicates it was last dredged in 1986 by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

In addition to the dredging project, Ms. Phillips says the breakwater extending into Greenport Harbor from Youngs Point is falling apart. 

Mr. Acebo said rising sea levels have made the breakwater less effective. 

“We have seen the sea level rise in Stirling Harbor in the last 20 years, because now we can have boats that have seven-foot draft approach our marina almost at any time,” he added. “Therefore, the water in a storm surge, will override the breakwater” and cause damage to downtown Greenport. 

He said if the channel to the harbor is filling in faster than it used to, despite rising sea levels, then it’s filling in faster than the sea is rising. 

“So there is a problem,” he said. 

Village Board members supported the idea of trying to get the dredging started.

Ms. Phillips said she was just hoping to begin that process before contacting state and federal officials. 

“If we’re holding it up because they’re waiting for something from us, we need to get that taken care of and just do it,” Mr. Hubbard said.

“This needs to be done,” he added. “It’s only getting worse each year.”

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Photo caption: Sterling Harbor in Greenport. (Tim Gannon photo)

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